by Ousmane Ndiaye and Robert Zougmoré
Seasonal climate forecasts could have considerable potential to improve agricultural management and livelihoods for smallholder farmers. But constraints related to legitimacy, salience, access, understanding, capacity to respond and data scarcities have so far limited the widespread use and benefit from seasonal predictions in the Sahel region. The existing constraints reflect inadequate information services, policies or institutional process in the region, however there are great potential in overcoming them. One trend is that regional climate outlook forums and national meteorological services have been at the forefront to provide forecast information for agriculture to rural farmers. One example of this is the communication workshop on probabilistic seasonal climate forecast, held in Senegal last year and supported by CCAFS. As part of the work on providing farmers with forecasts, a follow up workshop was held in late January to see how farmers used the information in their agricultural practices and what needs to be further improved.
Evaluating the seasonal forecasting training with former and new participants
In June last year, a team of experts from the Senegalese National Weather Service (ANAMS) trained 33 farmers on using probabilistic seasonal forecast in the district of Kaffrine, located in the midst of Senegalese peanuts zone. A week after the training the actual forecast covering the rainfall total and number of rainy days of the season July – September of that year was provided to farmers (see figure):
This January, after the rainy season, a team from ANAMS went back to Kaffrine to evaluate the seasonal forecasting with farmers and the local extension services such as World Vision, Agriculture Service, Forestry division, agricultural advisors from the national agency for agricultural and rural advice (ANCAR) and farmer’s organizations. 15 of the farmers who attended the training workshop in June were invited back along with 13 other farmers who hadn’t received information about seasonal forecasting to compare knowledge.
During the January workshop, the participants assessed both seasonal rainfall of 2011 as well as crop yield for various crops in the whole district. The rainfall from the agriculture rain gauge was 663.9mm but in the whole district of Kaffrine the rainfall varied from 462mm in North West of Kaffrine to 810 mm in South East of Kaffrine. All stations recorded less than last year but there was a high spatial variability this year. For the yield of 2011 (2010) the farmers produced: 650 (808) Kg/Ha, 720 (1050) Kg/Ha 775 (1900) Kg/Ha and 700 (975) Kg/Ha for respectively millet, sorghum, maize and peanuts. These were well below what the farmers got last year. These low yields could be explained by two factors: the late installation of the first rains creating many re-planting up to late August and a long dry spell at the end of the rainy season from the beginning of September to October with various degree of severity.
The participants took the opportunity to discuss in groups and interpret the figure presented during the last workshop. One group included 12 farmers that had received the forecasts and made some decisions based on those. The other groups included farmers who did receive the forecast but didn’t make any adjustment to their farming practices, which were 3 participants, and the last group contained 13 farmers who had never received any climate forecast information before. They were asked to document: action taken, problem encountered and recommendations. Group 1 understood from the workshop that a short cycle crop was suitable because the season will be less than 2010, but rainfall will be enough. Their problems were: high spatial variability of the rainfall, the first rainfall was late and it was difficult to judge when to start planting, a long dry spell and an early termination of the season. They wanted to know or get: the starting date, finer forecast in space, a weather bulletin each two weeks, more training to better understand the forecast.
Changing agricultural practices based on forecast data could have a gender dimension
The group number 2 did in fact receive the forecast, but had already bought their seeds at that time and it was therefore difficult to change any of the farming practices. Amy Ndiaye, a female participant from the non-adjustment group said it was difficult for her to implement the forecast because her husband didn’t attend the workshop therefore he didn’t believe in it. She added that “it prevented me to use a short-cycle variety. But after we had a low yield, he acknowledged that next time we will use seasonal forecast”.
The problem was a low yield where many crops didn’t complete their cycle and a high spatial variability of the rainfall. The farmers were recommended more training, to receive the forecast in April or early May, and to use other means of communication such as rural radio and text messaging.
Group number 3 with members who had never received any climate information said that they had thought 2011 would be like 2010. They missed the opportunity of a long season in 2010, and were prepared to catch up the next year by choosing a long cycle, buy fertilizers and hire wage laborers. The group members concluded that their problem was that they didn’t know anything about the course of the rainy season and needed to be part of the group and receive seasonal forecast training.
The way forward for communicating climate forecasts to farmers
The Workshop participants proceeded to discuss how to move forward with this process as well as evaluate the organization of the workshop in order to define what needed to be improved. There is a need to improve the communicating system and Boundary proposed to build upon existing channels. The local authority proposed to use official channels saying that the government would like the information to reach all villages. World Vision recommended that training more trainers would be the best way. Overall the farmers appreciated the experience of last year and welcomed more training.